April 27th, 2023


Richard Bullick

Armagh can look forward to another NFL Division Two final in Croke Park on April 15 after recording their sixth consecutive victory this season by beating Westmeath 3-15 to 1-6 at the Athletic Grounds.

Shane McCormack’s women will play their last regular league game this Sunday away to second-placed Tipperary, who need a win to be sure of facing Armagh again in next month’s divisional decider.

A home defeat against the Orchard crew coupled with a Laois victory over bottom-placed Roscommon this weekend would see those teams finish level so Laois would progress based on head-to-head result having beaten Tipp by a single point earlier in the campaign.

Coming into this season, Westmeath would have had high hopes of being in the promotion mix, but Sunday’s defeat was their fourth in six league games as unbeaten Armagh marched on with a 15-point victory.

Westmeath were trailing by just two points early in the second quarter but Armagh surged clear with a burst of 1-2 in the space of just over a minute, the goal coming from the typically excellent Lauren McConville.

Another very experienced campaigner Aoife McCoy rounded off a great team move with a second Armagh goal and Carrickcruppen prospect Caitriona O’Hagan scored her second nice point of the afternoon to make it 2-8 to 0-3 at the interval.

The Armagh starting team had shown two personnel changes from the victory over Laois at Orchard headquarters last time out with O’Hagan replacing Niamh Reel and Blaithin Mackin coming in for Caroline O’Hanlon.

O’Hanlon’s Leeds Rhinos netballers lost their British SuperLeague game away to Loughborough Lightning 63-49 later in the afternoon but the 38-year-old should be available for the trip to Tipp after facing Severn Stars in Hull on Friday night.

Aimee Mackin, who finished with 1-6, unleashed a stinging shot to the net to make it 3-11 to 1-6 early in the last quarter and manager McCormack had the luxury of using nine substitutes including back-up goalkeeper Brianna Mathers.

Crossmaglen’s Aoibheann McConville, younger sister of Lauren, nearly marked her first Armagh appearance with a point, Megan McShane featured for the first time in this campaign and Shauna Grey made a welcome return from injury.

Niamh Marley, unavailable recently due to her Irish sevens rugby trial, made an immediate impact in drawing a foul which saw the Westmeath midfielder sinbinned, while accomplished Derrynoose schoolgirl Maeve Lennon rounded off the scoring.

McCoy was second in the scoring chart with 1-2, Lauren McConville added a point to her goal while skipper Kelly Mallon, Ballyhegan’s Eve Lavery and AFLW star Blaithin Mackin each raised a single white flag.

Last season’s NFL Division Two final was the Orchard outfit’s first appearance at Croke Park in nearly a decade but they were beaten by Kerry so will want to go one better this time round and secure the title, trophy and all-important promotion on offer for the winners.